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sleepingNever underestimate the value of a good night’s sleep! The support of our mattress, the type of pillow we use, the ambient temperature of our bedroom is all crucial in ensuring we rest comfortably. But how important is the actual position of our body? Does it make a difference if we are a stomach sleeper versus a back sleeper versus a side sleeper?

Research proves, and physical medicine specialists concur, that there are certain sleep positions that are the “best” and “worst” for your spine’s health. Though it is difficult for most of us to imagine tucking in for the night flat on our backs, the best position for the spine really is stretched out on your back. And all the way horizontal—even without a pillow! This allows your spine, shoulders, neck and head to remain in neutral position, without any forced curvature. If sleeping without a pillow sounds impossible, try to use a pillow that is considered a “one plump.” This will help maintain neutral spine and will support your neck some without too much strain.

The next best sleep position is on your side. Sleeping on your side keeps your spine elongated, and prevents unnecessary pressure on your neck and shoulders. Try not to put your arm under your head, as this might tilt your neck unnaturally. Again, use a one plump pillow to keep your neck as aligned as possible.

Folks who sleep in the fetal position—knees pulled up to chest, chin tucked down—often wake up complaining of stiff necks and backs. Unlike side sleeping, this position is too extreme and restricts natural movement while you rest.

Studies show that the worst sleep position, by far, is sleeping on your stomach. When on your stomach, your neck and spine do not stand a chance of staying in neutral position, the joints and soft tissues in your back are stressed, and your organs are squished.

If changing your sleeping position seems too difficult to master, supplementing your position with a body pillow often leads to a more restful night. Side sleepers can place the pillow between their knees to take pressure off of the spine, stomach sleepers can place the pillow under their hips to take some weight off of the back, and back sleepers can use a smaller sized pillow under the small of their backs to lend extra support.